David Jeremiah - The Fingers of God
The story begins in the massive banquet hall of Belshazzar's palace, as he is hosting a feast for more than 1.000 attendees. Meanwhile, outside the walls of Babylon, the Persian armies have laid siege to the city, and Cyrus was about to execute his plan for an invasion. So the story begins in the first verses of the 5th chapter. First of all, Roman numeral one, The Feast of Belshazzar.
Daniel 5:1 — Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand.
This wasn't a little, small party. This was a huge party. Now we notice in the first verse, the sensuality of the feast. "Belshazzar the king... drank wine in the presence of the thousand". Now, that sounds just like an incidental descriptive word that means nothing, but it means a lot. Belshazzar was not hosting a dignified royal state dinner. This was a drunken party, and he violated royal protocol by drinking with his lords and inviting women to the feast.
In most ancient near-Eastern cultures, men and women had very little public interaction with each other and were customarily separated on social occasions, and if you'll read carefully the book of Esther, you will see an illustration of that. When this protocol was violated, it usually meant that sensuality was involved. Ancient kings didn't drink wine at banquets in order to maintain an aura of authority and self-control in the presence of their subjects. So this night in the banquet hall of Belshazzar was a night of sensuality, but it was also a night of sacrilege. The sacrilege of the feast is given to us in verses 2-4.
Daniel 5:2-4 — While Belshazzar tasted the wine and gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels, which his father, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from the temple and which had been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.
Belshazzar and his guests guzzled down drink after drink as they lifted up these holy vessels, which were created for the worship of Jehovah, and they did it to mock the God of heaven and worship their own pagan deities. The sacrilege of the feast. Now, let me add one with apologies: the stupidity of the feast. When Belshazzar held this licentious feat, he was well aware that the armies of Cyrus had amassed around his city. How could he and the Babylonians have been so naive to utterly ignore this threat to their city and their safety? Belshazzar didn't know it, but he was celebrating his own funeral. The feast of Belshazzar. The fingers of God. Notice verses 5-9, the supernatural sign.
Daniel 5:5 — In the same hour the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.
I'm sure that you know that for hundreds of years we have borrowed well-turned phrases from scripture to express everyday things. One of the best known of all of these phrases is "the handwriting on the wall". Well, that phrase comes right from Daniel 5. This is a Bible phrase, where God's prophetic message is written by supernatural fingers for everybody to see. Notice not only the supernatural sign but the sobering significance.
Daniel 5:6 — Then the king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other.
It wasn't what was written on the wall that terrified Belshazzar. He didn't know what was written on the wall anyway. He didn't know what it meant, but what terrified him was being in this palace and watching during this feast as a disembodied hand is writing a message on the plaster wall behind where the king was. Someone I read has summarized this by saying, "This was one of the fastest examples of sobering up in human history". Now, while all this is happening, according to verses 7-9, The Simultaneous Summons.
Daniel 5:7-9 — The king cried aloud... saying to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” Now all the king’s wise men came, but they could not read the writing, or make known to the king its interpretation. Then King Belshazzar was greatly troubled, his countenance was changed, and his lords were astonished.
Belshazzar, along with everyone else who was in attendance, could read the letters that formed the writing on the wall. These were Aramaic letters, the common language of the day, but they could not make sense of the words of their message, so Belshazzar cried out for his wise men to tell him what the words said and what they meant. A few verses earlier, we're told that when Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall, his thoughts troubled him, verse 6. Now when he can't understand the writing on the wall, we are told that he is greatly troubled, verse 9.
The fame of Daniel, then, is Roman numeral three. Belshazzar had heard of Daniel's ability to interpret dreams and visions. Daniel's amazing prophetic gift was still the stuff of legend in the royal courts, even though it had happened many years before. The recollection of the queen is given to us in verses 10-11.
Daniel 5:10-11 — The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came to the banquet hall. The queen spoke, saying, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts trouble you, nor let your countenance change... in the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and King Nebuchadnezzar your father... made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers.
Now, here's what happened. When the king's wise men admitted that they couldn't interpret the handwriting on the wall, the astrologers didn't know what these words meant, Belshazzar was told to summon the queen. His counselors came and said, "We need to get the queen in here". Now, we know this is not Belshazzar's wife, 'cause his wives are already with him. They're in the drinking party. The queen is not really his wife. It's the queen mother. It's the wife of Nebuchadnezzar. In the Aramaic language, the words "father," "mother," "grandfather," "grandmother" are not easily understood. They're the same word for all of the different people, only are able to be interpreted by the context in which they appear. We know who this woman is. This is Nebuchadnezzar's wife. Nebuchadnezzar is dead. She is alone, and she is summoned by Belshazzar's friends to come to this feast, and she arrives, and she makes the recommendation. The recommendation of the queen is in verses 10-12.
Daniel 5:10-12 — The queen spoke, saying... "There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God... Inasmuch as an excellent spirit, knowledge, understanding, interpreting dreams, solving riddles, and explaining enigmas were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation".
The queen knew Daniel, and it says here that she knew he was a man in whom was the Spirit of the Holy God. What a reputation. And the queen described Daniel like he is described I think seven or eight times in this book — a man in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. Let me just tell you this, and we'll touch on this later. If you're a man or a woman in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God, when the crisis comes, you will probably be called. Isn't it interesting how that works? When issues happen, people don't go for their drinking buddies. They go for the person in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. Now, the king requests that this happen.
Daniel 5:13-14, 16 — Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke, and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the captives from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? I have heard of you, that the Spirit of God is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you... And I have heard of you, that you can give interpretations and explain enigmas. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”
Daniel walks into that scene, and he sees these vessels, which had been sanctified for the worship of Jehovah God, desecrated by an inebriated, pagan king, and Daniel must've wept. His heart must've been broken. And the Bible says that Daniel responded. The faithfulness of Daniel. Daniel knew his role. He didn't come there to argue with the Babylonians or get in the face of Belshazzar. He came to stand up and speak for his God. He did several things. First of all, he refused the king's gifts.
Daniel 5:17a — Daniel answered, and said before the king, 'Let your gifts be to yourself.'"
That's a really nice way to say what he said.
Daniel 5:17b — "'Let your gifts be to yourself and give your rewards to another. And I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation.'"
I'm sure you're familiar with the term "quid pro quo". "Quid pro quo" means "something for something". You give me this, and I'll give you that. To avoid any semblance of quid pro quo, Daniel refused the king's offer of gold and all of his positions because Daniel worked for God. He didn't work for gold, and he worked for the King of heaven, not the king of Babylon. He refused the king's gifts, and then he reviewed the king's history, his heritage.
Daniel 5:18, 20-21 — O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him. Then he was driven from the sons of men, his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses.
This account that Daniel made was a preamble for what Daniel said next. He pointed his finger at Belshazzar, and he said to Belshazzar, "Belshazzar, you have fallen into the same category as your grandfather". How often is that true, is it not, that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children? And though that isn't something that has to happen, and sometimes children have to just draw a line in the sand and say, "It stops here" — it is often true that what we do in our own lives is repeated in the lives of our children.
1. So Daniel is gonna rebuke Belshazzar. This stands as one of the more famous rebukes in the Bible, almost right alongside of the rebuke that Nathan gave to David in that story. Listen to what he does. First of all, he charges this wicked king with premeditated sin. Watch this carefully.
Daniel 5:22 — You, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all of this.
Belshazzar had had an incredible opportunity to learn from the experience of his grandfather. He knew everything that happened to him, and yet he premeditatedly did what he did. That's the first thing Daniel told him.
2. He charged him with profane sacrilege.
Daniel 5: 23 — And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them.
3. He charges him of pagan Sacrifice.
Daniel 5:23 — And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.
Everything Belshazzar had, like everything we have, is from God.
James 1:17 — Every good gift... comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
Belshazzar didn't have anything that he owned himself. God had him given him his kingdom just as He had given the kingdom to his grandfather, but instead of worshipping the living God out of gratitude, Belshazzar chose to worship dead images. Daniel said to him, "Belshazzar, the living God, the real God worthy of your worship, holds your very breath in His hands, and you have decided to profane Him". And then Daniel got to the point and revealed the king's message, verses 24-29.
Daniel 5:25 — ...MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.
Let me break up the seriousness of this moment and remind you that some wags have over the years said these words mean, "Money, money tickles the parson", and that's not what these words mean. Just thought I'd throw that in. I had to get rid of that somehow. Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. These are Aramaic words. The first word is repeated for emphasis. They were terms for measuring, terms for quantity, accounting words, in essence.
The first word, MENE, is the word for "numbered". Belshazzar had been measured and counted and scrutinized and numbered. "Numbered, numbered," it says. TEKEL means "weighed". Belshazzar had been weighed according to God's standards of righteousness, and he had been found to come short, and the word upharsin means "divided" or "halved". This is a reference to Babylon's being divided between the Medes and the Persians.
Let me once again remind you of the statue we saw a few weeks ago. The head of gold was Babylon, and the arms of silver were the Medes and the Persians. The head of gold is about to be finished, and it's going to transit into the arms of silver — the Medes and the Persians. The Babylonian kingdom had been measured, it had been weighed, it had been found short, and it was going to end, and it was going to be given to the Medes and the Persians that very night. And then we have the fall of Babylon, which is recorded for us in verses 30 and 31.
Daniel 5:30a — That very night...
Which very night? The very night that the prophecy was made.
Daniel 5:30-31 — That very night, Belshazzar, the king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about 62 years old.
It was the night of October the 11th, 539 B.C. The Medo-Persian army slipped beneath the wall of Babylon and put Belshazzar to death. Babylon had fallen to it's enemies.
Isaiah 21:9 — ...Babylon is fallen, is fallen!...
Daniel 4 marked the end of Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel 5 marked the end of Babylon. The head of gold on the colossus has been defeated by the chest and arms of silver. Babylon was absorbed into the inferior empire of the Medes and Persians.
Now, as we wrap our minds around this story today, I know you're thinking, "Well, that sounds like a lot of stuff that's going on in our country. We think we're invulnerable. We don't think anybody can get us". I was thinking this week, "Maybe our under-the-wall experience are all the little cells that are developing all over the country". Doesn't matter what we do or how we live or how we profane God. God, He's not gonna bother us. Well, Babylon's a pretty interesting story for us to be reading at such a time as this. That night, Babylon was defeated, but Daniel walked right out of Babylon and became a leader in the Persian Empire. The godly people who love the Lord will not be touched by the disaster that hits the world. They will be taken to heaven ahead of time, but the judgment will come when God says it's time for it to come.
So let me ask you, what do we take from this? And let me give these to you real quickly: three things. First of all, as I read this, maybe this is for me, but it's for some of you too.
Daniel For Today
1. Don't ever think God is finished with you. Did you know that Daniel was no longer serving Babylon in an official capacity as far as we can tell? The whole younger generation had forgotten about Daniel, but God kept him alive for this moment, and Daniel gave a message that no other one could ever have given. He delivered a truth that no one in his generation could've delivered, and whatever your stage in life may be, stay ready to serve when your moment comes. That's what I'd say to you.
2. Don't worry too much about fame and fortune in a perishing world. This world is passing away. What an illustration from Daniel. He said to the king, "I know what my values are. I'd rather be right with God than have your robes and your chains and all of your prestige". Number one, don't think God is finished with you. Second, don't worry too much about fame and fortune in a perishing world.
3. Don't neglect passages about God's wrath and judgment. Hear my heart on this one. I like to be positive as much as anyone, and I think the vast majority of what we do and say in this church is very positive, but the Bible also is filled with reminders that there will be a reckoning, a time of judgment.
Let's ask God to give us the courage to warn our world as the opportunity comes that we only have a short time before God is gonna judge this nation. If we do that, we will make a difference. My responsibility is not to stand down — that's cowardice; not to stand aside — that's compromise; not necessarily even to stand against — that's contention, and sometimes it can be competition; but my job and your job is to stand up. That's courage, and that's conviction.